TOUGH new laws on foreign students have helped drive net migration down by a quarter in the last year, the sharpest decrease since 2008, new figures have revealed.
In the 12 months up to March, 536,000 people arrived in the UK, while 353,000 left, a net increase of 183,000.
That compared to 242,000 the previous year, when 578,000
arrived and 336,000 emigrated.
In response to the figures, David Cameron tweeted: “Effective immigration helps us compete in the global race.”
However, his government’s approach has been criticised by business leaders.
Simon Walker, director-general of the Institute of Directors, said: “The current approach to migration risked deterring international students, damaging our higher-education sector and giving the impression that Britain is not open to talent from across the world.
“We support the government’s desire to crack down on the minority of bogus students, but legitimate students are also being put off.”
Net migration was a key
battleground ahead of the last election and the coalition government promised to cut it by tens of thousands by 2015.
As a result, fewer people came to the UK than at any time since 2004, when 528,000 arrived in the country to live.
The decrease has largely been driven by an eight per cent drop in the number of people coming here for formal study, with 213,000 students arriving this year, compared to a peak of 232,000 in the year to March 2011.
In a move which sparked controversy, the government made it more difficult to study in the UK amid fears that bogus colleges were being used as a cover for migrants.
The number of immigrants coming to work also went down, from 194,000 in 2011 to 177,000 this year, a decrease of nine per cent.
Dr Scott Blinder, of the Migration Observatory at Oxford University, said: “The fact that this decline appears to be across all of the key routes will make pleasing reading for the government. It’s not really possible at this stage to identify the causes of the declines, but clearly it is not one specific channel such as student migration that has led to the decline, but an overall reduction in all routes.”
Migration from within the original EU 15 countries has bucked the trend, increasing by 6,000 compared to the previous year.
Dr Blinder said: “Today’s news suggests that migration from the ‘old’ EU15 countries may be following a different pattern from other groups”
However, the highest numbers of migrants comes from India followed by China, with 40,000 Chinese students arriving in the UK over the last year.
Immigration minister Mark Harper said: “This is a significant fall in net migration and the total number of visas issued for work, study and family reasons is at its lowest since 2005. This shows we are bringing immigration back under control.”